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Phenomenal Magic, Good Shakespeare : The Tempest @ South Coast Repertory – Review


(left to right) Manelich Minniefee& Zachary Eisenstat (Caliban) Tom Nelis (Prospero)

Written by Alina Mae Wilson 

William Shakespeare’s The Tempest at South Coast Repertory promised me magic and wonder, which it delivered enthusiastically, albeit single-minded. Meaning, I wish all of their actors were as skilled as their magicians.

The story focuses on the usurped Duke Prospero’s quest for vengeance after his brother Antonio fails to kill him. Prospero escapes to an island with magical books and supplies, where he becomes a sorcerer residing with his daughter Miranda and his spirit slave Ariel, waiting for his moment of revenge. The play begins with Prospero using his magic to create a tempest, ship wreaking the king and many other royals, including Antonio, onto his island. From there, we watch the interactions between the spirits and the group of visitors.

In the video posted on my preview, Aaron Posner, the director, mentioned that he thinks Shakespeare would have been thrilled by all of the magic in this version of The Tempest. Holy high self-esteem that is an intense statement to make. Having watched it…dang. That was some good magic. Even if you are familiar with magic, I would imagine you could enjoy just how seamlessly it was all woven in. Everything they did seemed to fit just right, and I found myself both in a state of wonder and discomfort as I asked myself repeatedly, “Where did that come from?” But as great as the spells were,  there were just certain performances that just didn’t work. 

The power in Prospero’s sleight of hand was excellent, but the power of his acting not so much. He looked the part. His spells were good, but there was something off about his overall state of being. He seemed sort of disengaged to me, and I didn’t feel the intensity that should have been emanating from him every time he went onstage, particularly since his obsession is the driving force behind the entire story. There was just not a balance between his emotion and his supposed strength. Even though I wasn’t always convinced by his performance, I understood what emotions he was trying to convey. The meaning of everything was fairly well conveyed. This is something that matters when you are watching stuff written 400+ years ago.  

Prospero’s daughter Miranda’s energy was fairly nonexistent when she shared the stage with her father at the beginning. I settled in for a long night of trying to convince myself that these people were actually a family. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see a certain relaxation and believability in her conversations with her love interest, Ferdinand. Once he appeared, I was able to enjoy Miranda’s presence significantly more.  

Ariel was the weird Dobby-Robin to Prospero’s Dumbledore-Batman. It’s kind of hard not to have him as one of your favorites here, if only because he is involved in some truly great magical feats.   Acting-wise, he had me convinced of his identity and motivations from beginning to end, but he would not be one of the more memorable characters if it weren’t for the stunts he pulls. Even though Prospero is the great sorcerer, Ariel does the majority of the tricks. Prospero’s island monster slave, Caliban, is one of the most creative portrayals of a monster I have seen in a long time, if not my life. The talent and energy that went into that creature are immense. He’s grotesque and perfect precisely as he is. 

I will tell you that the scenery suits the tone of the overall story perfectly. The story is good, though, as I often do with Shakespeare. I found myself wishing we could ease in a little bit into the action instead of being unceremoniously dumped in, but that is something quickly forgotten. The music they decided on was not mind-shatteringly awesome, but it was the best music I’d ever heard in Shakespeare. So, if you want to get some decent old-school theater combined with the power of modern-day technology, you should absolutely go see this show.


Ticket Info at the website:


Location & Dates :  

South Coast Repertory
655 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

August 29, 2014 – September 28, 2014

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